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Leela James: Let's Do It Again

To understand what an arresting, puzzling record Leela James's Let's Do It Again really is, look no further than the L.A. native and adopted Houstonian's cover of Foreigner's mid-'80s soft-rock/gospel-lite sing-along "I Want to Know What Love Is." James takes it about as far over the top as a church-raised singer who recalls Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu can be expected to, but both her demanding vocals — she needs to know what love is — and the smoldering arrangement add the gravity Mick Jones and Lou Gramm's original could never quite muster. Let's Do It Again features one more Brit-rock trophy — the Rolling Stones' "Miss You," which loses nothing in the translation from icy-cool lothario brush-off to impassioned scorned-woman rebuke. James has less daunting, if no less germane, ground to cover on the rest of the album: the considerable distance between James Brown's "This Is a Man's World," Betty Wright's hands-off-my-man leg-shaker "Clean Up Woman" and the slow, mean blues casting of "The Dark End of the Street." Her extra-thick backing band never betrays her, be it the Stevie Wonder/Anita Baker gloss of "Baby, I'm Scared of You," the P-Funk come-ons of "I'd Rather Be With You" or the acoustic Al Green perfection of "Simply Beautiful." Giving classic soul the kind of contemporary kick it's been crying out for, in the end Let's Do It Again only begs one question: "When?"

 
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